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There's no doubt who earned the "right time, right place" award Friday night.
It was Chase Hamilton, the Hinsdale Central senior guard huddled with teammates around a regional championship plaque.
Hamilton's offensive rebound and flipped-in putback at the buzzer gave the Red Devils a stunning 53-51 win over Naperville Central in the Class 4A Naperville Central regional final.
The victory seals the program's first regional title since 2007 and sends fourth-seeded Hinsdale Central (23-6) into Tuesday's East Aurora sectional semifinals against No. 1 Benet (21-7), which beat Waubonsie Valley 57-33.
"It was all pretty much a blur to me," said Hamilton, who corralled Thomas Ives' missed 3-pointer near the right block and scooped up the game-winner. "I just crashed the glass and it just landed in my hands. Somehow managed to get it in."
The game-winner was the 12th lead change of the night, in addition to eight ties. Six-foot-seven Red Devils junior Matt Rafferty, who scored a game-high 24 points, knocked down a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:27 left, only to be answered a half-minute later by Ryan Antony's 3 that tied it at 51-51.
Fifth-seeded Naperville Central got the ball back, but a missed shot and Hinsdale Central rebound set up the thrilling end after the Red Devils drained some clock and called timeout with 15 seconds left.
"We were focused on winning a regional, that was our goal from Day One of the season," said Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer. "The last 15 seconds I felt good about what we were doing. We made them take a bad shot, and the shot came off so weird. It almost missed the whole rim. It came off short, and enough time to get a putback."
A much-anticipated post matchup came to fruition as Rafferty went head-to-head with 6-8 Nick Czarnowski, who had 14 points, and 6-6 Patrick Maloney.
Naperville Central took its biggest lead of 36-31 on a steal and bucket by Antony, who scored a team-high 15 points. The Red Devils' 44-39 advantage early in the fourth quarter quickly faded as well when Maloney scored to put his team briefly ahead 45-44.
"We were really fortunate that it landed in our hands," Hinsdale Central coach Nick Latorre said of the finale. "Chase made a great play. It never exactly works out like you draw it up, but we were real fortunate that the ball kind of bounced to Chase and he made a play."
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